From HUSTLER Magazine
Beware the Speech Police
These are dangerous times for free speech in America. Tech giants now control the news feeds for millions of citizens, and they have begun a coordinated campaign of unregulated censorship. The campaign began in an effort to suppress “fake news” and alleged Russian interference in our elections, but a lot of babies have been tossed out with the bathwater. Google tweaked its algorithms to depress search ranking for alternate sites, resulting in significant collateral damage—many legitimate and honored news sources, such as AlterNet and Consortium News, saw their traffic fall off a cliff.
Meanwhile, Facebook has hired the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) to vet its news feeds. Among the Atlantic Council’s donors are a who’s who of defense contractors—Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Science Applications International Corporation—all with a vested interest in keeping the gravy train rolling for America’s bloated military-industrial complex and in suppressing antiwar journalism. Facebook and Twitter have summarily banned hundreds of accounts, including ones devoted to exposing police brutality and American interventions overseas.
Last March the U.S. Special Operations Command held a conference, “Sovereignty in the Information Age,” lamenting the internet’s promotion of political dissent and advocating control and effective censorship via private tech companies like Google and Facebook. The Atlantic Council published a document summarizing these findings.
In addition, a new web browser extension, NewsGuard, is rapidly gaining popularity. It ranks news sites as green (reliable) or red (unreliable). NewsGuard’s staff is composed of many seasoned journalists, and it does have an appeals process. But on the advisory board sit Tom Ridge, the first Secretary of Homeland Security; retired General Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and NSA; and Richard Stengel, also a distinguished fellow with the Atlantic Council’s DFRLab. Ridge and Hayden are primarily government insiders with no experience in journalism. The Daily Mail and the venerable Boing Boing website have already been branded with the scarlet letter. As Boing Boing’s Xeni Jardin complained, “Who made you [NewsGuard] the truth squad?”
There is a huge problem here: Our mainstream media has long been afflicted with blind spots. If The New York Times publishes another bullshit story, like Judith Miller’s notorious hyping of Iraq’s WMDs, will it earn a red badge of warning from NewsGuard? When journalist Gary Webb exposed CIA complicity in the crack-cocaine epidemic of the ’80s, The Times and Washington Post excoriated him, got him fired, drove him to suicide and never once apologized after his findings were corroborated later.
We need the alternative media to keep the mainstream honest. HUSTLER has always stood for untrammeled free speech. Despite some bad actors promoting disinformation, we cannot allow unelected think tank gurus and neocon warhawks to control and censor our primary news medium, the internet. Maybe it’s time for the major tech companies to be regulated as a public utility, with democratic input.